Black greed keeps wounds of white colonialism open in the arts: By Majola Majola | October 7, 2014

Theatre director Brett Bailey, who recently had his Exhibit B exhibition in London cancelled

Theatre director Brett Bailey, who recently had his Exhibit B exhibition in London cancelled

Mr. Sandile Memela is a representative of the Department of Arts and Culture; he is the Chief Director of Social Cohesion.

His, is to ensure that social transformation is a realised dream in our country, that the deep wounds dating as far back as colonisation really begin to heal, and that the preservation of imagery of these scars is kept as evidence to survival

Mr. Sandile Memela wrote an article titled We must be able to tell our own stories voicing his strong views on Mr. Brett Bailey’s theatre piece Exhibit B. It is clear that Mr Memela has no love for Mr Brett Bailey on the basis of his race and economic privilege, and that is evident through carelessly assembled words and the manner of expression in writing.

Factual as some of his points may be about white privilege, he doesn’t seem like a person with the power to transform policies inherited from colonisation. He sounds more bitter than angry.

He expresses what he hates more easily than that which he loves.  He dwells on the problems and offers no solutions.  He sounds more like a victim than a victor.

Mr. Memela then goes further and launches an attack on the black artists who chose to participate in the piece, he writes “ I don’t know what to make of the freedom of choice that this calibre of artist has because – without taking up these jobs that portray Africans in a negative light – they will be condemned to being unemployed, marginalised and face poverty”.

The unfortunate fact is that colonialism made black people inferior, submissive and meek. The challenge we are failing to face up to is to examine how deep the wound of colonialism runs in our souls and attend to it.

The group of artists who made the risky choice to place their skills on the altar to reflect a wound that won’t heal made the following point on a statement they issued “There’s vulnerability in holding a mirror up to humanity. No one wants to see a representation of themselves oppressed, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look.”

We must make a few determinations on what we want to do with the memory of colonialism, and that is if we want to reenact those tragedies with all players assuming the roles they played or forced into playing, or to use the present to artistically attack those who fell on the wrong in the theatre of those times.

Whatever choice we make or omit to make, however we choose to analyse that history there is little we can do to change it and the future awaits. White people had the upper hand in colonial times; with their ill acquired resources they placed themselves ahead in the economy. White producers reassume that position of superiority in the retelling of colonial era tragedies without really depending on the government for funds.

Mr. Memela’s zeal to berate white privilege coincidentally highlights black deprivation in regards to resources.

Black leaders are angry at the white man’s privilege while black citizens are mad at their leaders for their blatant disregard of their lives. Corruption exceeds all good intentions by our government.

The black artist depends solely on grants to fund their creative ideas and the subject matter must largely fit with government’s pre-determined agenda.

The awarding process of these grants is in most cases motivated not by the vision of social cohesion but rather that of self-enrichment. The majority of black artists today are marginalised more by corrupt activities than they are by colonial legacy.

The “caliber” of artists whose freedom of choice has failed to impress you reflects the conditions of the industry as well as the “Calibre” of leaders who should be building the industry indiscriminately.  

The Generations issue hasn’t reached a favourable resolution sir, but it has exposed how informal the economy of the arts remains.

Artists work under conditions that disrespect their skills and the disrespect varies depending on which field one operates in. If black artists who worked for a black owned production that generates an estimated R 4 Million revenue a night get dismissed for rightfully demanding more money, it shows that a few black producers have joined ranks of exploitation.

Mr. Mfundi Mvundla will keep making millions while exploiting new talent desperate to put food on the table. Isn’t he deserving of your disdain for refusing to empower black artists?

We know for sure that the arts inject over R33 Billion into the Gauteng economy annually, but it is impossible to determine how much each creative contributes in these figures for the industry still has no standard policies for artists remuneration.

The national annual budget allocated to the department of Arts and culture is not even a quarter of the revenue the arts generate for Gauteng alone, which shows you how serious our government is about transforming the position of the black storyteller.

Every other day we read one exposé after the other of self enriching “leaders” looting resources from the already impoverished black people, how different is their greed from that of the intensely detested white greed?

What of the unemployable, marginalized and poor artists who bravely speak against the corrupt government of President Zuma?

Who inducts those artists into hall of fames of “African Pride” for ensuring that corruption doesn’t derail social cohesion?

There are innumerable dead ends faced by the artist today, dead ends created by history and preserved by voracious leaders of present day Africa.

One is often left wondering if our leaders even realize that their power is to transform the quality of life for all people and not just for themselves? 

Future expressions in all creative disciplines will continue to tell a story of a weakened black people, for our narrative remains largely unchanged as black people remain excluded from economic relevance, only this time the exclusion is perpetuated by black and white greed.

Dr Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

While we remain fixated on what has happened in the past we might miss out on the chance to transform opportunity in the present times we live in. As long as greed rules the mind the scales will remain unbalanced meaning that the black artist will remain disempowered and alienated in process of storytelling.

It is then that you should work even harder to ensure that conditions are conducive for those in the arts. It would behoove all involved in the arts if leaders like yourself refrained from publicly condemning the choices of black artists who are largely disgraced and starved. 

Your condemnation deceivingly presents you as a spectator in the quality of artistic choices this current generation is exposed to. Help us understand that we are all human in spite of all our differences and then depoliticize the process of storytelling to enable us to tell a human story. That sir, would be working towards social transformation.



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